What we learned (and didn’t) in Week 10: Six reasons the number six mattered

This week’s column is brought to you by the number six.

Six is a very important number in football. It’s the number of points teams earn for a touchdown. It’s the number of teams each conference sends to the playoffs each season. It’s the number of Super Bowl titles won by the Pittsburgh Steelers — more than any other team.

But it was an especially interesting number in Week 10 of this NFL season. Why? Well, I’ll give you six reasons!


Adrian Clayborn‘s six sacks against the Cowboys

It was an unreal day for Clayborn, a former first-round pick who hasn’t had six sacks in a season since he had 7.5 in his rookie year of 2011 with Tampa Bay. It was a big win for the Falcons, who needed one to keep pace with the Panthers and the unconscious Saints in the NFC South. But Clayborn’s monster afternoon also made a pretty important point about the Cowboys.

The fact that Dallas is without star running back Ezekiel Elliott is obviously the subject of blaring nationwide headlines. But the fact that the Cowboys had to play without injured left tackle Tyron Smith in this game got a little bit less attention. It might have mattered more.

Without Smith on the left side, Dak Prescott‘s protection fell apart almost completely and led to Clayborn’s domination of overmatched Chaz Green. Having been pressured on 26.7 percent of his dropbacks in the Cowboys’ first eight games, Prescott faced pressure on 40.5 percent of his dropbacks Sunday. Prescott had been sacked 10 times all season before Sunday. Then the Falcons got him eight times total.

The Cowboys might or might not be able to get by without Elliott, but Smith could be a more important piece of the offense than any other. It sure looked that way Sunday.

The Saints’ six rushing touchdowns in Buffalo

What in the name of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush is going on in New Orleans? The Saints are on pace for 2,275 rushing yards. The last time they hit 2,000 in a season was 2011, a season in which they went 13-3 and lost to the Alex Smith 49ers in a wild playoff game. The time before that was 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl. Yes, it’s a fun, little secret of the Drew Brees era that the Saints have been title contenders whenever they’ve had a run game and a decent defense, and hoo boy, do they have those things this season.

Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have combined for 1,089 rushing yards in the first nine games of the season. Ingram is seventh in the league with 864 total yards from scrimmage. Kamara is 13th with 790. Brees didn’t even have to throw a touchdown pass Sunday in a 47-10 victory over a Buffalo team that was 4-0 at home before the Saints showed up. (However, he did get in on the act and run for one of the six.)

I could make some New Orleans party crack here, but what the Saints are doing is no joke. They’ve already matched their win total (seven) from each of the previous three season, and they have seven games left to play. You and I might have thought Brees was crazy last summer when he signed that contract extension because he wanted to try to win one more with this team before it was all over, but a brilliant 2017 draft and a recommitment to the formula that has always worked best for Brees and Sean Payton have the Saints back in first place. An NFC South team has been to the Super Bowl each of the past two years, and these Saints think it could be their turn.

The Jaguars’ sixth victory of the season

Oh, it didn’t come easy. No, sir. The Jaguars needed the Chargers to exert every last bit of their late-game Chargerness to pull this one off. But pull it off they did, and the Jags sit at 6-3 and tied for first place in the AFC South.

Why does this matter? Well, believe it or not, this is the first time since 2010 that the Jaguars have won six games in a season. No, that is not a typo. That is accurate. Six full seasons played without getting to six wins. That’s a drought of serious ineptitude, folks, which is why the fact that the Tom Coughlin/Doug Marrone Jaguars can push teams around with their defense and run game is such welcome news to the fine citizens of Duval County.

This one wasn’t easy. The Jaguars lead the league in rushing by nearly 20 yards per game, but they couldn’t get the run game going Sunday against the Chargers’ fearsome front. Of the Jaguars’ 135 rushing yards, 56 came on a fake punt by Corey Grant. Take out that play, and the Jags averaged only 3.0 yards per carry — well short of their awesome season average of 4.8. They asked Blake Bortles to throw it 51 times and still managed to win. That’s like hitting the lottery, and toughing out a win when things don’t go according to plan is the mark of a real contender.

There’s a long way to go, and the division could come down to a New Year’s Eve game against Tennessee, which already beat Jacksonville once. But if this keeps up, Coughlin’s tone-setter, three-hour, padded training camp practices are going to look like the work of a genius — a mad genius, maybe, but a genius nonetheless.

Out of 25. Against a Giants secondary that was supposed to be one of the best in the league, remember?

There is a lot to unpack from the 49ers’ first win of the season, including the possibility that Beathard’s best game as quarterback could well have been his last, if they decide to hand the keys to Jimmy Garoppolo after the bye. But with all due respect and congratulations to Kyle Shanahan on his long-awaited first victory as an NFL head coach, this thing Sunday was more of a Giants story than a 49ers one.

The Giants were noncompetitive in the second half against a winless team that had lost its previous three games by a combined total of 63 points. They allowed three pass completions of 40 yards or longer — the most by a 49ers team in a single game since 2001. The Niners rushed for 186 yards, including 162 before first contact. The Giants were pushed around up front, and a defense that ranked 10th in the league last season in fewest yards allowed per game is now sitting at 31st. If that holds up, it’ll be the sixth time in his nine seasons as a defensive coordinator or head coach that a Steve Spagnuolo defense finished in the bottom half of the league and the fourth time one finished in the bottom four.

Obviously, the problems with the Giants are extensive, systemic and rooted in the consistent inability of 11th-year general manager Jerry Reese to build a roster through the draft. But while Reese and coach Ben McAdoo take the brunt of the heat, it’s worth wondering what happened to a defense that was supposed to be this team’s backbone. It’s fair to expect that the changes that await the Giants at season’s end could be extensive.

The Rams’ sixth game with at least 30 points

That’s the most by any team this season, and the Rams are 6-0 in those games. (Which sounds like a “yeah, duh” kind of stat, but the Texans have scored 30 five times and are 2-3 in those games, and the Cowboys are 2-2 when they score 30.)

There are five teams — the Giants, Browns, Bears, Chargers and somehow the Steelers — that haven’t scored 30 in a game this season. The Giants, Browns and Bears didn’t do so last season, either. Seriously, the Browns haven’t scored 30 points in a game since Oct. 11, 2015, when they beat the Ravens 33-30 in overtime. (They’re 2-34 since that day.)

The Rams score 30 in their sleep. They’ve done it three games in a row, and before that, they scored 27 against the Jaguars (though two of their three touchdowns that day were on special teams, and I promise I’m done with the parentheses now).

Things are about to get tougher for Sean McVay, Jared Goff and the crew. Four of the Rams’ next five opponents rank in the top half of the league in total defense, including Minnesota at No. 5 and New Orleans at No. 8 the next two weeks. But the Rams showed Sunday that they can make in-game adjustments when things aren’t going their way. They had 131 total yards in the first half against Houston and busted out with 312 in the second. They hold a one-game lead in the division over Seattle, which beat them once, and don’t see the Seahawks again until Week 15. If the Rams can slug out a couple in the meantime against some of the league’s better defenses, it could be a fun December at the Coliseum.

Case Keenum‘s sixth win for the Vikings

A year ago, you might or might not remember, Keenum was the quarterback for the Rams. In fact, this was the week last season when the Rams switched from Keenum to Goff as the starter. Those were very different times. The Rams were averaging 20.8 points per game, well short of the 32.9 they’re averaging now, and the Vikings had just lost four games in a row following a 5-0 start because they couldn’t protect Sam Bradford.

Now, Bradford’s on injured reserve, the Vikings are protecting the heck out of Keenum, and he just threw four touchdown passes in a victory over Washington, with one-time Vikings QB-of-the-future Teddy Bridgewater looking on from the sideline. The world might be expecting Bridgewater to take over, and he could do so as soon as this week. But whether or not he does, the Vikings are 7-2 with Keenum having started seven of their games because of Bradford’s and Bridgewater’s knee issues. If there were a Backup Quarterback of the Year Award, Keenum would be a runaway winner. But he’s just hoping they let him finish this season as much more than that.

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